the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Dancing with the Stars – Live!


“Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” — dancer and choreographer Martha Graham

“The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.”  — writer Ray Bradbury

Sophia and I showed up at CBS Television City, where, ironically, they shoot ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”   It was the final dance-off of the season, and we were excited to see the show live.   The two of us were decked out in our finest clothes, as if we were going to a reception for Queen Elizabeth.   An email explicitly told us to “dress up” as if it were an elegant affair.  There were others waiting to get in, dressed in the same manner — glamorous and beautiful. 

Then reality struck us in the face like a bead flung off Mel B’s sequined dress.  This was not a fancy event.  We were not a paying audience.  We were going to see the taping of a TV show, which means being treated like sheep. 

First up — figuring out which line you are on. 

There was the line for the “celebrities” like the Spice Girls and Ryan from All My Children (yes, Danny, we saw him!).   They went in first.

There was another line for VIPs, mostly agent-looking dudes. 

There was the pseudo-VIP line.  These were the assistants to the agent-looking dudes. 

There was the I-know-someone-but-someone-not-very-important line.  This is where you would stand if your former roommate’s sister is now the makeup person on the show. 

There was a “priority” line for those who didn’t get in last time, and were given a special pass this time, putting them on a line one step before the total nobodies with tickets.  You see, the networks, like Southwest Airlines, overbook — even if you have a ticket — and then leave those unlucky enough standing on the street with a “priority ticket,” and walking back to the bus stop in their dresses and suits with dashed dreams of sitting next to Donny Osmond. 

Everyone, except the Spice Girls, waited… and waited.   A college-age production assistant with a clipboard, humorlessly checked our tickets.  A homeless guy wandered along the line, looking for cans of soda left behind by ticket-holders. 

Hey, ABC — why not send a warm-up guy OUTSIDE and entertain us why we wait forever?   It took almost three hours from arrival to getting inside the studio.  Think about how they do things at Disneyland!  Sure you moved us from spot to spot like you do at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but where’s the music?  The fun?  The audience was half asleep by the time we took our seats (crammed in so you can hardly move. I’ve never seen such tiny chairs.)

Most of the public guests were women, and Sophia thought since I was a man, this would help us get a better seat, especially since I was looking good in my blue suit.  She pushed me to be at the outside of the line, so the show ushers would notice me and put us in a visible spot.  On TV, it looks as if the audience is filled with distinguished-looking men.  In reality, the audience was 3/4 women, mostly drooling over Maxim.  Some of these fans are fanatics.  These are women who remember every single judge’s score since season one.

Sophia and I actually got decent seats in the second-tier VIP section, but later we realized that it is probably better to be in the balcony with the average Joes.    The camera was constantly blocking our view.  We were also on the wrong side of the stage.  Later, when we came home, we searched for ourselves on the screen, and all we can find was a one second shot of the back of my head.  We didn’t even bother to call my mother to tell her. 

The real star of the show is — the editing.   Everything is low-key on the set.   The excitement only begins when the warm-up guy jumps up and down, giving us the Pavlovian sign to stand and cheer as if Jesus had just walked in.   The minute it was commercial time, all became silent.  Then, boom — screams of ecstasy!  No wonder so many women in Los Angeles fake their orgasms. They must all work on TV shows, and get in the habit of showing false enthusiasm. 

We cheered, we stood, we booed — everything on cue.   Why did we give everyone a standing ovation, even the bad routines?  Because we were told to!  Why did we boo the judges when they made some intelligent, but constructive comment?  I didn’t boo once.  How impolite!  And why does the audience have to be the toadies for the dancers?  

Tom Bergeron looked pretty sullen and unfriendly during the commercial breaks, and only smiled and became witty when the camera turned on.

Finally, I had enough.  I stood up and spoke my mind.

“Hey, Tom!  What is this with all the fake frivolity?  It’s so much more fun on TV.  Here you all look bored!”

“Yes.  That’s TV.   Boring to make.  At least this a better gig than that dumb “America’s Favorite Videos.”  And  since we’re shooting at CBS, we’re closer to the Farmer’s Market.   I love those donuts at Bob’s.”

“And wait a minute.  Who’s writing this show anyway?  Don’t tell me that Bruno is coming up with those witty comments by himself?”

“Oh, uh, yeah.  We are “ad-libbing” everything during the Writer’s Strike.  Why?  Are you a writer?”

“Well, actually I am.” I said.

“Hmmm… because I really could use someone to help me ad-libbing tonight’s lame jokes.”

“Well, I would, but I don’t want to be a scab.”

“Well, I couldn’t pay you union scale, but I could introduce you to Cheryl Burke.”

“Cheryl Burke, the hottest dancer on the show?  Call me scab.  You got a deal!”


Well, of course that never happened, but thinking about it kept me amused while waiting in line.

On the way home, Sophia and I stopped at the 99 cent only store to pick up some batteries.  I wish we had taken pictures.  It must have looked funny as we walked down the aisles of cheap detergent in our best clothing.   When we went to pay, the checkout girl gave us the once over, and asked us if we are coming back from “our prom.”  That was the best part of the night.


  1. Paul

    I feel your pain. When I lived near London I used to regularly attend the live Big Brother evictions. even in pouring rain and freezing cold. It was how I discovered I have Mike Wazowski Syndrome. I can be right in front of the camera but will be obscured by a security guard, microphone, piece of hair … anything really.

  2. better safe than sorry

    i don’t know, i still feel the excitement here, through all of it, i am just a tab bit jealous, sounds to me like you had a good time. i wish you had at least taken a pic of the two of you in your finest, cuz i bet you made a cute couple.

  3. V-Grrrl

    So very Los Angeles.

    So very American.

    I’m trying to imagine Belgians standing and cheering for anything other than a World Cup match…not going to happen.

  4. Marilyn

    I wish every person in America would visit a TV or movie set…and then they’d see how utterly unglamorous it is. Now I don’t feel bad that I slept through the show and missed your ‘appearance.’ J’s friend (someone he plays with regularly) does the DWTS tours (singer)…and why they use different singers on the tours than the show is beyond me. It’s not like the guy’s second-tier…he’s got 11 Grammys. I love the prom comment and it reminded me of what happened to me at the gas station last night. I was paying the cashier and she said, “You must have been at the (basketball) game.” I thought, what, is she psychic?! Until she started laughing and pointing at my face…where I’d forgotten my niece had put a team sticker.

  5. Bre

    The teenybopper inside of me is way jealous that you got to see some REAL LIVE spice girls. Sigh.

  6. cruisin-mom

    Growing up here, I have seen filming of movies and stars, and been to tapings, practically all my life. I still get star struck, but it’s true…most people don’t realize how boring the whole process is of movie making and t.v. tapings.
    I’m glad Helio won…

  7. brettdl

    I went to a Politically Incorrect and a Jay Leno taping while in Los Angeles. I tasted the Kool-Aid, then spat it out.

  8. churlita

    Oh my god. I loved this post. I sure wish you had been discovered. You totally deseve it.

  9. Jennifer

    Makes me glad I forgot to watch it because the only thing I would have been interested in seeing was you and Sophia!!

  10. sizzle

    that prom comment IS funny.

  11. Donna

    But you DID get a terrific blog post out of it…

    (My spy tells me there IS a WGA writer on DWTS, but since the Guild contract does not cover reality shows, he is not in violation of strike rules by working there. No comment on the quality of the work.)

  12. sweetney

    can’t say i’m surprised exactly, and yet i’m somehow vaguely disappointed or something anyway. damn fakey show biz fakers. hrrmph.

  13. sandra

    You looked hot in your suit and Sophia looked hot in her dress-up gear, I’m sure; perhaps the camera crew was jealous? 🙂

  14. OMSH

    Why don’t they just use canned laughter like they used to…basically the same, right?

  15. maribeth

    I attended the American Idol results show where Amy Adams got eliminated. This was before they dragged out the results shows to a whole hour with special guest performances, so it kinda sucked.

    Like you said, the camera makes everything look so much better. On TV, the group song and dance numbers are slightly annoying. In person, they are beyond awful.

  16. By Jane

    I love the photo you chose to illustrate this post!

  17. a life uncommon

    It’s amazing how much non-glamour goes into making things glamourous… such is life, and not just here in LA.

  18. Neil

    Here’s SoCalMom’s more interesting experience seeing the show two weeks ago

  19. Muddleman

    My wife and I are “Seat Fillers”, who get used (and I mean that literally) to fill vacant seats so as to make the audience seem full. Every year or so we acccept an invitation to go to a TV show taping in NY. And every time it’s exactly like you describe. The last time, they handed out bottles of water in mid July after the outside wait had passed the 2 hour mark.

    And the shows almost always suck during the taping.

  20. Mrs. Chicky

    I’ll never watch live television the same way again. Not that I ever held it in high esteem as it was.

  21. Eileen

    I like the idea of Jesus being on the show. He could have a dance off with say Moses, Buddha and a few other deities. My money would be on Buddha-those big guys tend to have a lot of grace

  22. mckay

    i looked for you guys. it’s great having slomo on tivo. didn’t see you but i sure saw lots of weird facial expressions.

  23. sassy

    Prom night? I love it ! Was Sophia wearing sequins?

  24. Ash

    Neil, I would have loved to see a photo of you dressed up for ‘the prom’. Was Sophia in heels? (Tell me yes!)

  25. littlepurplecow

    You are SO LA! Though, I wouldn’t have guessed you for a blue suit sorta guy. The tie really makes the outfit. Tell us about the tie. And always, always, put Sophia on the outside of the line.

  26. Melissavina

    Damn. I love Tom Bergeron. I was hoping he’d be all chuckles and knock knock jokes off camera too. You just burst a big bubble of mine, you know that?

  27. mrsatroxi

    I’d always liked Tom Bergeron, too. This makes me sad.

    Too bad you didn’t get into the control room! That’s where all the excitement and fun happens! (Can you tell I’m lying?)

  28. Los Angelista

    The only taping I’ve been to that was absolutely awesome from start to finish was Jerry Springer. I’d just come back from abroad and had no idea what or who Springer was. I’ll tell you, it was INSANE. They did such a good job hyping the audience up and entertaining us.

    That said, is Posh as twig-like in person as she looks? Did she orgasm cheer on cue too?

  29. Neil

    Posh is way too scrawny.

  30. Di

    I had tickets to attend today’s taping, was all set to drive up to LA and quickly reconsidered after reading your post.

    This evening I shall don my best sweat pants pour a glass of wine and cheer on the dancers from the comfort of my living room thanks to you.

  31. Imagenes de carros

    yep its so very Los Angeles.

    So very American.

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